North Korea is China’s deniable Ally for Global Nuclear Proliferation.

North Korea is China’s deniable Ally for Global Nuclear Proliferation.

[Posted by Lara Keller 17/12/2017]

Acquiring nuclear armed intercontinental missiles, by regimes that are hostile to the West, is a big deal. Currently Russia and China are hostile to the West and they are the only nuclear states that belong to this category. When diplomatic and business niceties are stripped away, the reality is that Russia and China are aggressive competitors against the interests of ordinary people of Western democratic nations. The interests of Western elites are flexible and not necessarily divergent to those of Russia-China elites, which is a natural mechanism for the spread of authoritarianism to the West.

Other non-Western nuclear states are currently India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea. Neither India or Pakistan are hostile to the West, and they direct their weapons against each other. Clearly Israel is a semi-colonial Western state transplanted by Western antisemitism to the Levant.

The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un is widely reported as an extremely repressive state, that is far more extreme than either of it’s superpower allies Xi Jingping’s China and Putin’s Russia. Both Russian and Chinese communist regimes, have a history of early utterly extremist authoritarian leaders (Stalin and Mao) who brought mass suffering and risked disaster to these one party dictatorships. On their deaths  internal opposition within the inner cliques of the ruling parties lead to reform. In Russia Stalin was directly criticized, while in China Deng Xiaoping criticized the excesses of the Maoist era. Mao is still official revered as the father of the “revolution”, while Putin is attempting to resurrect Stalin’s reputation.

North Korea is not a satellite of China, but China is its only powerful ally, North Korea is internationally isolated, China’s population is 56 times greater than North Korea, and they share a border that is nearly 900 miles long. It is reasonable to suspect that China has the power to increase or decrease the influence of groups within the North Korean regime who struggle for power during successions. It is therefore easier for extreme dictatorships to survive succession crises with foreign superpower support.

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Strong PR attempt to mislead the UK public about the causes of the Grenfell Tower Fire.

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Have not written about the terrible Grenfell Fire since early August 2017, as I spent a month before that, looking at everything I could about the fire engineering causes behind the “rapid fire spread” in the cladding (See Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno ).

The media today reported that the Police are investigating contractors for criminal negligence. Concerned that since the fire in June there has been a strong PR attempt to mislead the UK public about the causes of the fire. In the media the blame has been pinned on the flammability of the rainscreen and insulation (that make up the cladding system). This was reinforced in July by government agency BRE testing of the cladding materials in a perfectly installed setup, in a so called “full scale” BS 8414-1 test. This test showed the materials did not meet the fire compartmentation regulations.

The impression has been given that the “rapid fire spread” in the cladding during the Grenfell Tower Fire was entirely due to the cladding materials used. There is an important element that has been ignored in the media. This is cavity fire breaks, or more technically ventilated cavity fire barriers.

The previous article from August (See Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno ) describes in detail that none of the tests on the cladding materials explains the “rapid spread of the fire”. They do explain how a serious fire would have occurred, that would have spread to some adjoining flats, but do not explain how the whole 22 floor tower block was engulfed in flames in around 20 minutes.

This rapid fire spread requires a wind tunnel effect in the cavity behind the rainscreen and the insulation. This requires that a large percentage of the air gaps in the cladding cavity at the floor levels, were not blocked by correctly installed cavity fire barriers. This involves botched installation, botched cladding design and manufacture, and botched inspection. There is a strong case for an investigation into negligence for profit, that lead to the horrific deaths and injuries at Grenfell Tower.

Some discussion has appeared in the construction industry press about cavity fire barriers and Grenfell. Selected building experts have been suggesting fire barriers are difficult to install, and may not work in all situations. The apparent intention is to undermine the importance of cavity barriers.

There was a useful article in September 2017 “Inside Housing” Grenfell: what did the cladding tests show?  It includes this paragraph:

“To provide proper insulation, installers leave a cavity between the panels [rainscreen] and the foam [insulation], and it is in this void that fire safety issues can arise. In order to preserve the cavity but also prevent it from becoming a deadly chimney, fire breaks are generally installed at regular intervals. These do not block the cavity entirely, but are designed to expand when they detect fire and fill the gap [damp insulation is less effective].

Arnold Tarling, a fire safety expert and chartered surveyor at Hindwoods, has little faith in this idea. ‘How,’ he questions, ‘do you make sure that this continues across every vertical member which is holding the cladding on? The external cladding’s got to stick to something, and so very often you have vertical sections of aluminium bonded to the concrete. You have your barriers coming out from there. How do you fill in all those cavity bits and pieces – the aluminium tubes themselves? How do you fill in the cavity gaps? It becomes very complicated.’ ”

This gets to the heart of the Grenfell rapid fire spread. The design, construction and installation of the cladding was done of the cheap. Looking at limited information on the cladding installation it is highly possible that over 50% of the cavity gaps where the Grenfell Tower columns intersected with floor levels was left completely unprotected (See Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno ).

It is necessary that there is a fight red in tooth and claw to ensure justice for the victims of this fire. Then secondly comes ensuring it does not happen again, and that the UK construction industry is properly regulated (currently building regulations are becoming a joke, which impacts on wider government regulatory climate). Finding suitably qualified fire safety experts to go against the ire of the powerful UK Construction Industry Lobby and its resources will be a major problem.

SNP Salmond Talk Show on Russia Today, No Surprise for Promoter of Putin’s Syrian Genocide.

“The Alex Salmond [Talk] Show” has been launched on the Putin regime’s foreign propaganda mouthpiece Russia Today (RT). According to the UK guardian many of the colleagues of this seasoned Scottish National Party politician appear to be surprised (see https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/nov/17/be-ashamed-alex-salmond-courts-controversy-rt-russia-today ). No one should be surprised, he has a history of being an apologist for Putin’s frankly fascist regime.

In September 2015 Russia began its direct intervention in Assad’s war against the Syrian people, that has led to the current near collapse of the mainstream opposition, and the ascendancy of the brutally oppressive Assad regime. In October 2015 at the SNP conference, Alex Salmond was calling for non-intervention by the West in Syria, so  effectively supporting Putin’s intervention in Syria:

“There was a moment of excitement when we all rushed into the hall yesterday to hear Alex Salmond set out the party’s position on Syria. ‘There is no one in Syria who is not being bombed by someone,’ he told the conference. For that reason, he wants ‘no more futile military interventions’, and his short speech mentioned the duration of the war in Afghanistan and the lack of money set aside for reconstruction in Libya. This opens up an intriguing dividing line with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, after shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn indicated that he was open to supporting military action in Syria. Could the SNP outflank Corbyn, a former chair of Stop the War, in their dovishness?”

[See https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2015/10/snps-conference-friendly-rousing-and-boring-just-what-party-wants ]

This is exactly the opposite of the support that Syrian activists were desperately calling for. I did a bad cartoon satirizing Salmond and the SNP’s fake pacifism. It reminded me of a 1936 David Low cartoon about non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War. It was sarcastically titled “Correct Attitudes in Spain”. This fake pacifism encouraged the spread of fascism in Europe by exposing the truth that democracy had no value.

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Salmond dressed as a policeman is saying “Syria is a domestic dispute, not an assault by criminals. Any forceful intervention will only add to the carnage. The SNP will use it’s 55 votes in UK Parliament, to swing the balance, to ensure time is wasted collecting UN vetoes, and arranging endless futile talks. All in the name of populist tokenism, clarity, sanity and humanity”.

It is not surprising that the year before Salmond was giving guarded praise for Putin:

” In an interview for the forthcoming issue of GQ magazine – given last month as Russia was being accused of military aggression in Crimea but before it had annexed the region from Ukraine – Mr Salmond was questioned about a number of world leaders by Alastair Campbell, the former Labour strategy director.
‘Well, obviously, I don’t approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin’s more effective than the press he gets, I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia,’ Mr Salmond said.
‘He’s restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire.’ ”

[See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/effective-putin-has-admirable-qualities-says-alex-salmond-9294614.html ]

Salmond is correctly criticized by a Scottish Labour spokesperson in the same article:

” Scottish Labour’s external affairs spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said: ‘Given he [Salmond] shares Nigel Farage’s politics of division and grievance, it’s hardly a surprise that the First Minister has found common ground with the Ukip Leader.’
‘But his comments about Vladmir Putin are insensitive and ill-judged given the precarious situation in Ukraine. For Scotland’s First Minister to admit his admiration for someone with such a controversial record on human rights and democracy does not reflect well on our country.’ ”

It is time to question Alex Salmond, and question his previous statements and positions. This man is not a democrat, and is certainly not progressive.

Incoherent Moral Hypocrisy of Separatism from Catalonia to Singapore.

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Incoherent Moral Hypocrisy of Separatism from Catalonia to Singapore.

[Posted by Lara Keller 1/11/2017 Last Updated 15/11/17 ]

Like the painting of “not supporting the Syrian Revolution” as a sort of anti-imperialist progressive movement, in a less important sense, the support for Catalan Independence Separatism is being promoted abroad as “true democracy in action”. Both these rhetorical obscenities are essentially incoherent, immoral and deeply hypocritical.

A recent article by Ian Jack in the UK Guardian Newspaper is useful in discussing the Catalonian Independence movement (see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/28/britain-caught-brexit-storm-scotland-england-stick-together ). It states that a think tank called “These Islands” has been set up to argue against Scottish Independence and to keep the UK united.

Nigel Biggar is a prominent member of this think tank – a retired professor of moral and pastoral theology from Oxford University – he states there are 3 criteria for a morally just separatist movement:

1. Are the grievances of the separating nation serious?
2. Are the grievances long standing rather than temporary?
3. Are the grievances current rather than historical?

Examining each of these in turn as they apply to Catalonia:

1. Not Serious = Catalonia is the wealthiest region in Spain. All of Spain has enjoyed democracy and freedom of speech since Franco died in 1975.

2. Temporary = Spain endured a financial crisis in 2008 and a subsequent recession that the economy is now slowly recovering from. The conservative People’s Party have been in power since 2011, and has pursued an unjust policy of austerity, but this is bound to change as governments change.

3. Not Current = Dictatorship died with Franco over 40 years ago. The Spanish Civil War was 80 years ago.

The real core grievance appears to be that Catalonia pays more in tax to Madrid than it receives in government services. In all countries richer areas support poorer areas. There is much made of Catalonian culture. Chauvinistic comments about non Catalan Spanish being lazy (echoes of German attitudes to indebted Greeks here) or revulsion to bull fighting as if Spaniards are all obsessed with it outside of Catalonia.

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The Catalan independence movement is a very broad coalition. It claims the cake of independence can be eaten twice. The poor Catalans will get much better services and austerity will end, while richer Catalans will get lower taxes and live like their contemporaries in Denmark. The assumption is that Catalonia can easily exist without the Spanish economy, rather than the reality that the region has done well out of the Spanish economy and is integrated into the Spanish economy.

I have not seen any convincing arguments that Catalan Independence is about democracy. It is about a large minority (38%) in a prosperous region trying to unilaterally reset the borders of continental Spain that date to 1561, with probably unrealistic economic self advantage as the real core  reason.

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If we discard morality, then the other motive for separatism is plain self-interest. The Scottish Independence lobby site IndependentScotland.org, gives the self- interested case for a profitable separatist movement in “10 Reasons to vote YES for an Independent Scotland” (see http://www.independentscotland.org/articles/14270/why-vote-yes-for-scottish-independence.htm ). Naively optimistic points 4 and 5 get to the heart of matter, “4.Securing Oil Funds in North Sea” and “5. Scotland has the resources and finances”. Point 5 is helpfully illustrated by a barrel of cash, and a link to the libertarian comedian Dominic Frisby (no seriously) article in the UK Independent Newspaper “Why an independent Scotland could become the richest country on Earth” ( https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/why-an-independent-scotland-could-become-the-richest-country-on-earth-9096120.html ).

According to the CIA survey mentioned in Frisby’s article the top 10 wealthiest countries by income per capita (in Purchasing Power Parity terms) in 2016 were Liechtenstein, Qatar, Monaco, Luxembourg, Singapore, Brunei, Kuwait, Ireland, Norway and United Arab Emirates. Frisby also slips in the assertion that small countries have a higher level of equality.  He puts this success to the common factor which is their small population size, and subsequent lack of bureaucratic exploitation. So small and separate is not only beautiful but prosperous and equal as well. Frisby touches on the obvious problem with this argument that the United States is wealthy, but counters that it has been wealthier when states were more autonomous and the dollar was on the “gold standard”.

This article is empty rhetoric: (1) Income per capita has nothing to do with equality, it is just an average calculated by dividing national wealth by population. None of these countries in the list apart from Norway have a reputation for income equality. (2) There are many small poor countries. (3)  Statistically the top section of any list is not necessarily indicative of patterns that apply to the whole list. The top are likely to be exceptionally lucky. Clearly a large country is going to be an average of the fortunes of its many regions.

A deeper more interesting problem with the argument of small countries being wealthier due to self-made merit is more interesting.  Most of the top-ten small wealthy countries are either tax havens or oil-gas producers. They exploit the stricter tax regimes of other countries, or the hydrocarbons under territory then can lay claim to. For example Norway and the UK claim oil rich areas of the North Sea beyond their territorial waters, which could be argued to belong to Europe as a whole. Ireland has become a multi-national’s tax shelter, where many companies in Europe have relocated their headquarters to Ireland, because it has very low corporate tax rates.

Singapore is another country on the list, that is used to promote the advantages of separatism, having broken with Malaysia in 1965. It is also promoted as the superiority of benign dictatorship over democracy. A strange choice for the self-confessed libertarian Dominic Frisby. Singapore is a mainly ethnic Chinese city state off the coast of Malaysia.

Emerging from the colonial rule of the British Empire and separation from Malaysia, Singapore had the geographical advantage of being a strategically placed port on a major shipping route, and the business advantage of being part of an established large regional ethnic Chinese trading network. Independence also coincided with the beginning of globalization and the transfer of manufacturing by Western companies to the Far-East.  Singapore also developed extensive oil refining facilities as Asian demand for oil products soared. The truth is that Singapore was doing well in 1965, and was in a perfect position to take advantages of changes in the economics of the region.

Critically it was established by the long-term competent relatively benign (rather than the usual exploitative corrupt) dictatorship of Lee Kuan Yew, that actively discouraged corruption to create a stable legal system.

The problem with Singapore is that it is a dictatorship that is run for the benefit of a clique. Lee Kuan Yew famously described ordinary citizens as “digits”. This regime composed of the disingenuously named ruling “People’s Action Party” and the multi-national business elite. Effective opposition does not exist because critics are bankrupted for “defamation” and if this does not silence them they are imprisoned . It is a wealthy country, but most native Singaporeans do not share in it. It is one of the most expensive places to live in the world and also one of the most unequal.

There are positive lessons that can be learned from Singapore for the so called “liberal” Western democracies, but these are not the things promoted by the regime and its apologists. The regime is described by informed detractors as a “stingy nanny state”. An active state means the acute housing shortage caused by limited land has been tackled by extensive social housing. Pollution and congestion has been greatly reduced by a combination of rationing the number of cars and organizing abundant public transport. Public health is actively promoted, resisting the overabundance of junk food and alcohol that undermines the West. For example alcohol is 2 to 3 times more expensive in Singapore than neighboring countries.

There are essentially three classes in this “stingy nanny state”. The “servant class” of ordinary native Singaporeans who endure a highly competitive work environment together with being squeezed by expensive social housing, and the high charges and patchy coverage of other state services. The  native Singaporean population is declining, because the birth rate is very low and emigration is increasing. The “peasant class” of foriegn migrant labour is now reaching  around a third of the population. They keep wages low, and do not have any rights. Then there is the “elite class” composed of the ruling party, highly talented and educated Singaporeans, and foreign professionals who often take permanent resident status. China is looking to Singapore and the regional hinterland it exploits, as a model of a stable and exploitative class structure to emulate. China already treats much of its population like foreign migrant labour, only allowing temporary residence in industrial cities.

Conclusion:

Separatism is a false reactionary road. Small is not necessarily beautiful, equal or successful. The real progressive challenge in Spain for Catalonians and other Spaniards is to change the Spanish Government. The same applies to the Scotland and the rest of the UK. The real progressive challenge in Europe for all ordinary Europeans is to reform the economic structure of the European Union. Where Germany, it’s wealthiest state, is destroying the EU tree it is complacently sitting on. If Europe was better at distributing its resources, then there would be less pressure on component countries to distribute resources between its component regions. The West needs to be wary and selective of what lessons it takes from states like Singapore and China.

Oracle Orwell: NOTES ON NATIONALISM (1945)

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Oracle Orwell: NOTES ON NATIONALISM (1945)

[Posted by Lara Keller 17/10/2017, Updated 29/10/2017]

Introduction: Orwell’s intentions were to apply honesty, direct experience, clarity and art to political writing. Orwell wrote and personally engaged in an extremely turbulent era when nineteenth century European political philosophies collided disastrously with twentieth century industrial technology, resulting in two World Wars and the start of a potentially apocalyptic Cold War. It is for this reason that Orwell’s writings – in particular the reflective ones of the 1940s – should be read now especially in a time of an emerging Second Cold War.

Orwell political thought underwent some profound shifts. He had been wounded in the Spanish Civil War while fighting for the Republicans. Immediately before the Second World War he joined the radical left wing ILP (Independent Labour Party). Bizarrely at this point he opposed rearmament and the fighting of a war against Nazi Germany, at least by the British State. The ILP position, common to much of the radical left, was that the liberal laissez-faire capitalism of this period was an inevitable predecessor to fascism.  They believed there was a serious threat from British Fascism enabled by the discipline needed to impose a then unpopular war mobilization on the UK. In reality the UK government made concessions and promises to engage the working class in an existential struggle with the Nazis. Orwell shifted his position to supporting the British Government’s War Effort.

Orwell’s essay is much broader than the title indicates. It is decisively not just about “nationalism” as an obsessive love of country. Orwell extends the concept to a kind of chauvinism, that encompasses obsessive loyalties to country, politics, religion and race. This essay is actually a blistering rejection on the destructive absurdity of all of these.

Orwell does not target “social anarchism” specifically, of which he appears to have been an agnostic sympathizer. It would certainly qualify as a radical-left quasi-religious “nationalism” under Orwell’s scheme. His criticism of anarchism in other writings is more piecemeal. “Economic neo-liberalism” in the wake of post Second World War reforms has since Orwell’s time become a reactionary quasi-religious nationalism. The ideas expressed in this essay rather than just the targets is it’s real lasting value.

Have also added a few extra notes after the essay text, marked as [See Extra Note*1]…..etc.

[Start Essay]

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word LONGEUR [See Extra Note*1], and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the WORD, we have the THING in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation–that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, AGAINST something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty. [See Extra Note*2]

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. [See Note, in text below] But secondly–and this is much more important–I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, NOT for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

[Note: Nations, and even vaguer entities such as Catholic Church or the proletariat, are commonly thought of as individuals and often referred to as ‘she’. Patently absurd remarks such as ‘Germany is naturally treacherous’ are to be found in any newspaper one opens and reckless generalization about national character (‘The Spaniard is a natural aristocrat’ or ‘Every Englishman is a hypocrite’) are uttered by almost everyone. Intermittently these generalizations are seen to be unfounded, but the habit of making them persists, and people of professedly international outlook, e.g., Tolstoy or Bernard Shaw, are often guilty of them. (Author’s footnote)]

So long as it is applied merely to the more notorious and identifiable nationalist movements in Germany, Japan, and other countries, all this is obvious enough. Confronted with a phenomenon like Nazism, which we can observe from the outside, nearly all of us would say much the same things about it. But here I must repeat what I said above, that I am only using the word ‘nationalism’ for lack of a better. Nationalism, in the extended sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism. It does not necessarily mean loyalty to a government or a country, still less to ONE’S OWN country, and it is not even strictly necessary that the units in which it deals should actually exist. To name a few obvious examples, Jewry, Islam, Christendom, the Proletariat and the White Race are all of them objects of passionate nationalistic feeling: but their existence can be seriously questioned, and there is no definition of any one of them that would be universally accepted.

It is also worth emphasising once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit [See Extra Note*3]. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist–that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating–but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it IS the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also–since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself–unshakeably certain of being in the right.

Now that I have given this lengthy definition, I think it will be admitted that the habit of mind I am talking about is widespread among the English intelligentsia, and more widespread there than among the mass of the people. For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics, certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible. Out of the hundreds of examples that one might choose, take this question: Which of the three great allies, the U.S.S.R., Britain and the USA, has contributed most to the defeat of Germany? In theory, it should be possible to give a reasoned and perhaps even a conclusive answer to this question. In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it in terms of competitive prestige. He would therefore START by deciding in favour of Russia, Britain or America as the case might be, and only AFTER this would begin searching for arguments that seemed to support his case. And there are whole strings of kindred questions to which you can only get an honest answer from someone who is indifferent to the whole subject involved, and whose opinion on it is probably worthless in any case.

Hence, partly, the remarkable failure in our time of political and military prediction. It is curious to reflect that out of all the ‘experts’ of all the schools, there was not a single one who was able to foresee so likely an event as the Russo-German Pact of 1939. [See Note 1, in text below] And when news of the Pact broke, the most wildly divergent explanations were of it were given, and predictions were made which were falsified almost immediately, being based in nearly every case not on a study of probabilities but on a desire to make the U.S.S.R. seem good or bad, strong or weak. Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties. [See Note 2, in text below] And aesthetic judgements, especially literary judgements, are often corrupted in the same way as political ones. It would be difficult for an Indian Nationalist to enjoy reading Kipling or for a Conservative to see merit in Mayakovsky, and there is always a temptation to claim that any book whose tendency one disagrees with must be a bad book from a LITERARY point of view. People of strongly nationalistic outlook often perform this sleight of hand without being conscious of dishonesty.

[Note 1: A few writers of conservative tendency, such as Peter Drucker, foretold an agreement between Germany and Russia, but they expected an actual alliance or amalgamation which would be permanent. No Marxist or other left-wing writer, of whatever colour, came anywhere near foretelling the Pact.(Author’s footnote)]

[Note 2: The military commentators of the popular press can mostly be classified as pro-Russian or anti-Russian pro-blimp or anti-blimp. Such errors as believing the Maginot Line impregnable, or predicting that Russia would conquer Germany in three months, have failed to shake their reputation, because they were always saying what their own particular audience wanted to hear. The two military critics most favoured by the intelligentsia are Captain Liddell Hart and Major-General Fuller, the first of whom teaches that the defence is stronger that the attack, and the second that the attack is stronger that the defence. This contradiction has not prevented both of them from being accepted as authorities by the same public. The secret reason for their vogue in left-wing circles is that both of them are at odds with the War Office. (Author’s footnote)]

In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism [See Extra Note*4]. It is certain that this is still widespread, and much more so than most observers would have believed a dozen years ago. However, in this essay I am concerned chiefly with the reactions of the intelligentsia, among whom jingoism and even patriotism of the old kind are almost dead, though they now seem to be reviving among a minority. Among the intelligentsia, it hardly needs saying that the dominant form of nationalism is Communism–using this word in a very loose sense, to include not merely Communist Party members, but ‘fellow travellers’ and russophiles generally. A Communist, for my purpose here, is one who looks upon the U.S.S.R. as his Fatherland and feels it his duty t justify Russian policy and advance Russian interests at all costs. Obviously such people abound in England today, and their direct and indirect influence is very great. But many other forms of nationalism also flourish, and it is by noticing the points of resemblance between different and even seemingly opposed currents of thought that one can best get the matter into perspective.

Ten or twenty years ago, the form of nationalism most closely corresponding to Communism today was political Catholicism. Its most outstanding exponent–though he was perhaps an extreme case rather than a typical one–was G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton was a writer of considerable talent who whose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda. During the last twenty years or so of his life, his entire output was in reality an endless repetition of the same thing, under its laboured cleverness as simple and boring as ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians.’ Every book that he wrote, every scrap of dialogue, had to demonstrate beyond the possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the Protestant or the pagan. But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealisation of the Latin countries, especially France. Chesterton had not lived long in France, and his picture of it–as a land of Catholic peasants incessantly singing the MARSEILLAISE over glasses of red wine–had about as much relation to reality as CHU CHIN CHOW has to everyday life in Baghdad. And with this went not only an enormous overestimation of French military power (both before and after 1914-18 he maintained that France, by itself, was stronger than Germany), but a silly and vulgar glorification of the actual process of war. Chesterton’s battle poems, such as Lepanto or The Ballad of Saint Barbara, make The Charge of the Light Brigade read like a pacifist tract: they are perhaps the most tawdry bits of bombast to be found in our language. The interesting thing is that had the romantic rubbish which he habitually wrote about France and the French army been written by somebody else about Britain and the British army, he would have been the first to jeer. In home politics he was a Little Englander, a true hater of jingoism and imperialism, and according to his lights a true friend of democracy. Yet when he looked outwards into the international field, he could forsake his principles without even noticing he was doing so. Thus, his almost mystical belief in the virtues of democracy did not prevent him from admiring Mussolini. Mussolini had destroyed the representative government and the freedom of the press for which Chesterton had struggled so hard at home, but Mussolini was an Italian and had made Italy strong, and that settled the matter. Nor did Chesterton ever find a word to say about imperialism and the conquest of coloured races when they were practised by Italians or Frenchmen. His hold on reality, his literary taste, and even to some extent his moral sense, were dislocated as soon as his nationalistic loyalties were involved.

Obviously there are considerable resemblances between political Catholicism, as exemplified by Chesterton, and Communism. So there are between either of these and for instance Scottish nationalism, Zionism, Antisemitism or Trotskyism. It would be an oversimplification to say that all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere, but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:

OBSESSION. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort. If the chosen unit is an actual country, such as Ireland or India, he will generally claim superiority for it not only in military power and political virtue, but in art, literature, sport, structure of the language, the physical beauty of the inhabitants, and perhaps even in climate, scenery and cooking. He will show great sensitiveness about such things as the correct display of flags, relative size of headlines and the order in which different countries are named. [See Note, in text below] Nomenclature plays a very important part in nationalist thought. Countries which have won their independence or gone through a nationalist revolution usually change their names, and any country or other unit round which strong feelings revolve is likely to have several names, each of them carrying a different implication. The two sides of the Spanish Civil War had between them nine or ten names expressing different degrees of love and hatred. Some of these names (e.g. ‘Patriots’ for Franco-supporters, or ‘Loyalists’ for Government-supporters) were frankly question-begging, and there was no single one of the which the two rival factions could have agreed to use. All nationalists consider it a duty to spread their own language to the detriment of rival languages, and among English-speakers this struggle reappears in subtler forms as a struggle between dialects. Anglophobe-Americans will refuse to use a slang phrase if they know it to be of British origin, and the conflict between Latinizers and Germanizers often has nationalists motives behind it. Scottish nationalists insist on the superiority of Lowland Scots, and socialists whose nationalism takes the form of class hatred tirade against the B.B.C. accent and even the often gives the impression of being tinged by belief in sympathetic magic–a belief which probably comes out in the widespread custom of burning political enemies in effigy, or using pictures of them as targets in shooting galleries.

[Note: Certain Americans have expressed dissatisfaction because ‘Anglo-American’ is the form of combination for these two words. It has been proposed to submit ‘Americo-British’.(Author’s footnote)]

INSTABILITY. The intensity with which they are held does not prevent nationalist loyalties from being transferable. To begin with, as I have pointed out already, they can be and often are fastened up on some foreign country. One quite commonly finds that great national leaders, or the founders of nationalist movements, do not even belong to the country they have glorified. Sometimes they are outright foreigners, or more often they come from peripheral areas where nationality is doubtful. Examples are Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, de Valera, Disraeli, Poincare, Beaverbrook. The Pan-German movement was in part the creation of an Englishman, Houston Chamberlain. For the past fifty or a hundred years, transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is usually to Russia. But the peculiarly interesting fact is that re-transference is also possible. A country or other unit which has been worshipped for years may suddenly become detestable, and some other object of affection may take its place with almost no interval. In the first version of H. G. Wells’s OUTLINE OF HISTORY, and others of his writings about that time, one finds the United States praised almost as extravagantly as Russia is praised by Communists today: yet within a few years this uncritical admiration had turned into hostility. The bigoted Communist who changes in a space of weeks, or even days, into an equally bigoted Trotskyist is a common spectacle. In continental Europe Fascist movements were largely recruited from among Communists, and the opposite process may well happen within the next few years. What remains constant in the nationalist is his state of mind: the object of his feelings is changeable, and may be imaginary.

But for an intellectual, transference has an important function which I have already mentioned shortly in connection with Chesterton. It makes it possible for him to be much MORE nationalistic–more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest–that he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge. When one sees the slavish or boastful rubbish that is written about Stalin, the Red Army, etc. by fairly intelligent and sensitive people, one realises that this is only possible because some kind of dislocation has taken place. In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion–that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware–will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack–all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognised for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way of attaining salvation without altering one’s conduct.

INDIFFERENCE TO REALITY. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage–torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians–which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal NEWS CHRONICLE published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians. [See Note, in text below] It is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities–in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna–believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.

[Note: The NEWS CHRONICLE advised its readers to visit the news film at which the entire execution could be witnessed, with close-ups. The STAR published with seeming approval photographs of nearly naked female collaborationists being baited by the Paris mob. These photographs had a marked resemblance to the Nazi photographs of Jews being baited by the Berlin mob.(Author’s footnote)]

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.

Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should–in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918–and he will transfer fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which it is felt ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied [See Note, in text below]. In 1927 Chiang Kai Shek boiled hundreds of Communists alive, and yet within ten years he had become one of the heroes of the Left. The re-alignment of world politics had brought him into the anti-Fascist camp, and so it was felt that the boiling of the Communists ‘didn’t count’, or perhaps had not happened. The primary aim of propaganda is, of course, to influence contemporary opinion, but those who rewrite history do probably believe with part of their minds that they are actually thrusting facts into the past. When one considers the elaborate forgeries that have been committed in order to show that Trotsky did not play a valuable part in the Russian civil war, it is difficult to feel that the people responsible are merely lying. More probably they feel that their own version was what happened in the sight of God, and that one is justified in rearranging the records accordingly.

[Note: En example is the Russo-German Pact, which is being effaced as quickly as possible from public memory. A Russian correspondent informs me that mention of the Pact is already being omitted from Russian year-books which table recent political events.(Author’s note)]

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to calculate within millions, perhaps even tens of millions, the number of deaths caused by the present war. The calamities that are constantly being reported–battles, massacres, famines, revolutions–tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs of the Warsaw rising of August 1944? Is it true about the German gas ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to FEEL that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world.

I have examined as best as I can the mental habits which are common to all forms of nationalism. The next thing is to classify those forms, but obviously this cannot be done comprehensively. Nationalism is an enormous subject. The world is tormented by innumerable delusions and hatreds which cut across one another in an extremely complex way, and some of the most sinister of them have not yet impinged on the European consciousness. In this essay I am concerned with nationalism as it occurs among the English intelligentsia. In them, much more than in ordinary English people, it is unmixed with patriotism and therefore can be studied pure. Below are listed the varieties of nationalism now flourishing among English intellectuals, with such comments as seem to be needed. It is convenient to use three headings, Positive, Transferred, and Negative, though some varieties will fit into more than one category:

POSITIVE NATIONALISM

(i) NEO-TORYISM. Exemplified by such people as Lord Elton, A.P. Herbert, G.M. Young, Professor Pickthorn, by the literature of the Tory Reform Committee, and by such magazines as the NEW ENGLISH REVIEW and THE NINETEENTH CENTURY AND AFTER. The real motive force of neo-Toryism, giving it its nationalistic character and differentiating it from ordinary Conservatism, is the desire not to recognise that British power and influence have declined. Even those who are realistic enough to see that Britain’s military position is not what it was, tend to claim that ‘English ideas’ (usually left undefined) must dominate the world. All neo-Tories are anti-Russian, but sometimes the main emphasis is anti-American. The significant thing is that this school of thought seems to be gaining ground among youngish intellectuals, sometimes ex-Communists, who have passed through the usual process of disillusionment and become disillusioned with that. The anglophobe who suddenly becomes violently pro-British is a fairly common figure. Writers who illustrate this tendency are F. A. Voigt, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn Waugh, Hugh Kingsmill, and a psychologically similar development can be observed in T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and various of their followers.

(ii) CELTIC NATIONALISM. Welsh, Irish and Scottish nationalism have points of difference but are alike in their anti-English orientation. Members of all three movements have opposed the war while continuing to describe themselves as pro-Russian, and the lunatic fringe has even contrived to be simultaneously pro-Russian and pro-Nazi. But Celtic nationalism is not the same thing as anglophobia. Its motive force is a belief in the past and future greatness of the Celtic peoples, and it has a strong tinge of racialism. The Celt is supposed to be spiritually superior to the Saxon–simpler, more creative, less vulgar, less snobbish, etc.–but the usual power hunger is there under the surface. One symptom of it is the delusion that Eire, Scotland or even Wales could preserve its independence unaided and owes nothing to British protection. Among writers, good examples of this school of thought are Hugh McDiarmid and Sean O’Casey. No modern Irish writer, even of the stature of Yeats or Joyce, is completely free from traces of nationalism.

(iii) ZIONISM. This the unusual characteristics of a nationalist movement, but the American variant of it seems to be more violent and malignant than the British. I classify it under Direct and not Transferred nationalism because it flourishes almost exclusively among the Jews themselves. In England, for several rather incongruous reasons, the intelligentsia are mostly pro-Jew on the Palestine issue, but they do not feel strongly about it. All English people of goodwill are also pro-Jew in the sense of disapproving of Nazi persecution. But any actual nationalistic loyalty, or belief in the innate superiority of Jews, is hardly to be found among Gentiles.

TRANSFERRED NATIONALISM

(i) COMMUNISM.

(ii) POLITICAL CATHOLICISM.

(iii) COLOUR FEELING. The old-style contemptuous attitude towards ‘natives’ has been much weakened in England, and various pseudo-scientific theories emphasising the superiority of the white race have been abandoned. [See Note, in text below] Among the intelligentsia, colour feeling only occurs in the transposed form, that is, as a belief in the innate superiority of the coloured races. This is now increasingly common among English intellectuals, probably resulting more often from masochism and sexual frustration than from contact with the Oriental and Negro nationalist movements. Even among those who do not feel strongly on the colour question, snobbery and imitation have a powerful influence. Almost any English intellectual would be scandalised by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it. Nationalistic attachment to the coloured races is usually mixed up with the belief that their sex lives are superior, and there is a large underground mythology about the sexual prowess of Negroes.

[Note: A good example is the sunstroke superstition. Until recently it was believed that the white races were much more liable to sunstroke that the coloured, and that a white man could not safely walk about in tropical sunshine without a pith helmet. There was no evidence whatever for this theory, but it served the purpose of accentuating the difference between ‘natives’ and Europeans. During the war the theory was quietly dropped and whole armies manoeuvred in the tropics without pith helmets. So long as the sunstroke superstition survived, English doctors in India appear to have believed in it as firmly as laymen.(Author’s footnote)]

(iv) CLASS FEELING. Among upper-class and middle-class intellectuals, only in the transposed form–i.e. as a belief in the superiority of the proletariat. Here again, inside the intelligentsia, the pressure of public opinion is overwhelming. Nationalistic loyalty towards the proletariat, and most vicious theoretical hatred of the bourgeoisie, can and often do co-exist with ordinary snobbishness in everyday life.

(v) PACIFISM. The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty. The mistake was made of pinning this emotion to Hitler, but it could easily be retransferred.

NEGATIVE NATIONALISM

(i) ANGLOPHOBIA. Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases. During the war it was manifested in the defeatism of the intelligentsia, which persisted long after it had become clear that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly pleased when Singapore fell ore when the British were driven out of Greece, and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news, e.g. el Alamein, or the number of German planes shot down in the Battle of Britain. English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated, and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or perhaps America, and not to Britain. In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong. As a result, ‘enlightened’ opinion is quite largely a mirror-image of Conservative policy. Anglophobia is always liable to reversal, hence that fairly common spectacle, the pacifist of one war who is a bellicist in the next.

(ii) ANTI-SEMITISM. There is little evidence about this at present, because the Nazi persecutions have made it necessary for any thinking person to side with the Jews against their oppressors. Anyone educated enough to have heard the word ‘antisemitism’ claims as a matter of course to be free of it, and anti-Jewish remarks are carefully eliminated from all classes of literature. Actually antisemitism appears to be widespread, even among intellectuals, and the general conspiracy of silence probably helps exacerbate it. People of Left opinions are not immune to it, and their attitude is sometimes affected by the fact that Trotskyists and Anarchists tend to be Jews. But antisemitism comes more naturally to people of Conservative tendency, who suspect Jews of weakening national morale and diluting the national culture. Neo-Tories and political Catholics are always liable to succumb to antisemitism, at least intermittently.

(iii) TROTSKYISM. This word is used so loosely as to include Anarchists, democratic Socialists and even Liberals. I use it here to mean a doctrinaire Marxist whose main motive is hostility to the Stalin régime. Trotskyism can be better studied in obscure pamphlets or in papers like the SOCIALIST APPEAL than in the works of Trotsky himself, who was by no means a man of one idea. Although in some places, for instance in the United States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents and develop into an organised movement with a petty fuerher of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is AGAINST Stalin just as the Communist is FOR him, and, like the majority of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is going in his own favour. In each case there is the same obsessive fixation on a single subject, the same inability to form a genuinely rational opinion based on probabilities. The fact that Trotskyists are everywhere a persecuted minority, and that the accusation usually made against them, i.e. of collaborating with the Fascists, is obviously false, creates an impression that Trotskyism is intellectually and morally superior to Communism; but it is doubtful whether there is much difference. The most typical Trotskyists, in any case, are ex-Communists, and no one arrives at Trotskyism except via one of the left-wing movements. No Communist, unless tethered to his party by years of habit, is secure against a sudden lapse into Trotskyism. The opposite process does not seem to happen equally often, though there is no clear reason why it should not.

In the classification I have attempted above, it will seem that I have often exaggerated, oversimplified, made unwarranted assumptions and have left out of account the existence of ordinarily decent motives. This was inevitable, because in this essay I am trying to isolate and identify tendencies which exist in all our minds and pervert our thinking, without necessarily occurring in a pure state or operating continuously. It is important at this point to correct the over-simplified picture which I have been obliged to make. To begin with, one has no right to assume that EVERYONE, or even every intellectual, is infected by nationalism. Secondly, nationalism can be intermittent and limited. An intelligent man may half-succumb to a belief which he knows to be absurd, and he may keep it out of his mind for long periods, only reverting to it in moments of anger or sentimentality, or when he is certain that no important issues are involved. Thirdly, a nationalistic creed may be adopted in good faith from non-nationalistic motives. Fourthly, several kinds of nationalism, even kinds that cancel out, can co-exist in the same person.

All the way through I have said, ‘the nationalist does this’ or ‘the nationalist does that’, using for purposes of illustration the extreme, barely sane type of nationalist who has no neutral areas in his mind and no interest in anything except the struggle for power. Actually such people are fairly common, but they are not worth the powder and shot. In real life Lord Elton, D. N. Pritt, Lady Houston, Ezra Pound, Lord Vanisttart, Father Coughlin and all the rest of their dreary tribe have to be fought against, but their intellectual deficiencies hardly need pointing out. Monomania is not interesting, and the fact that no nationalist of the more bigoted kind can write a book which still seems worth reading after a lapse of years has a certain deodorising effect. But when one has admitted that nationalism has not triumphed everywhere, that there are still peoples whose judgements are not at the mercy of their desires, the fact does remain that the pressing problems–India, Poland, Palestine, the Spanish civil war, the Moscow trials, the American Negroes, the Russo-German Pact or what have you–cannot be, or at least never are, discussed upon a reasonable level. The Eltons and Pritts and Coughlins, each of them simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again, are obviously extreme cases, but we deceive ourselves if we do not realise that we can all resemble them in unguarded moments. Let a certain note be struck, let this or that corn be trodden on–and it may be corn whose very existence has been unsuspected hitherto–and the most fair-minded and sweet-tempered person may suddenly be transformed into a vicious partisan, anxious only to ‘score’ over his adversary and indifferent as to how many lies he tells or how many logical errors he commits in doing so. When Lloyd George, who was an opponent of the Boer War, announced in the House of Commons that the British communiques, if one added them together, claimed the killing of more Boers than the whole Boer nation contained, it is recorded that Arthur Balfour rose to his feet and shouted ‘Cad!’ Very few people are proof against lapses of this type. The Negro snubbed by a white woman, the Englishman who hears England ignorantly criticised by an American, the Catholic apologist reminded of the Spanish Armada, will all react in much the same way. One prod to the nerve of nationalism, and the intellectual decencies can vanish, the past can be altered, and the plainest facts can be denied.

If one harbours anywhere in one’s mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:

BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.

COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.

IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.

TROTSKYIST: The Stalin régime is accepted by the Russian masses.

PACIFIST: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

All of these facts are grossly obvious if one’s emotions do not happen to be involved: but to the kind of person named in each case they are also INTOLERABLE, and so they have to be denied, and false theories constructed upon their denial. I come back to the astonishing failure of military prediction in the present war. It is, I think, true to say that the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool. When Hitler invaded Russia, the officials of the MOI issued ‘as background’ a warning that Russia might be expected to collapse in six weeks. On the other hand the Communists regarded every phase of the war as a Russian victory, even when the Russians were driven back almost to the Caspian Sea and had lost several million prisoners. There is no need to multiply instances. The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified–still one cannot FEEL that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function.

The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance–it is even possibly true–that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that NO unbiased outlook is possible, that ALL creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual CAN keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics–using the word in a wide sense–and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a MORAL effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a MORAL effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.

[End Essay]

Extra Notes

[Extra Note*1]  The reference is to Byron’s use of the French word “longueur” in his satirical poem Don Juan. Its contemporary relevance makes it worth quoting:

“I know that what our neighbours call ‘longueurs’
(We ‘ve not so good a word, but have the thing
In that complete perfection which ensures
An epic from Bob Southey every spring),
Form not the true temptation which allures
The reader; but it would not be hard to bring
Some fine examples of the epopee,
To prove its grand ingredient is ennui.”
[ George Byron, “Don Juan, Third Canto”, 1821 ]

By neighbours he means the French. Robert Southey was then the British “Poet Laureate”, and one of the “Lake Poets” school along with Wordsworth and Coleridge. Byron is complaining of his “long” romantic poetic sagas, which although respected lacked authenticity, and so produce boredom in those who see through them. In the same poem Byron pokes fun at the “Lake Poets” flabby high minded utopianism. Their move from infatuation with the radical politics of the French Revolution, to romantic conservatism, he lampoons brilliantly earlier in this poem as: “Their loyal treason, renegado [rebel] rigour, Are good manure for their more bare biography”. In other words for personal gratification they swing passionately from rebellion to the establishment, and shallowly count the strength of their attachment above the nature of object of this attachment.

It is understandable why Orwell was thinking of Byron when he wrote a denunciation of chauvinistic groups in all their forms. Orwell’s and Byron’s complaint could be leveled at the writers of popular “progressive” political door stops today which provide neither the necessary diagnosis let alone cure.

[Extra Note*2] In Orwell’s essay he uses the word “nationalism” in the sense that “nation” is any overwhelming group feeling. A nation may be a political conviction, a country or a religion.

[Extra Note*3] Trotsky was one of the principal leaders (second only to Lenin) of the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917. He was exiled and eventually assassinated by Stalin. He proposed the theory of permanent revolution in  which he proposed that a country did not need to pass through a stage of advanced capitalism to achieve a sustainable communist revolution. He opposed the state capitalism of Lenin and Stalin, that imposed a privileged bureaucratic class on society, which was justified as a stage towards eventful worker control.  Trotsky also opposed Stalin’s isolationist doctrine of socialism in one country, and instead maintained that any revolution in one country required the solidarity of an international movement. Trotskyists criticized and indeed continue to criticize the corrupt elites of nominally communist states (in particular the Soviet Union) as deformed workers states. These revolutions could or can still apparently be returned to the correct path without external intervention. Trotskyism is associated with Marxist fundamentalism.

[Extra Note*4]  Jingoism means “the extreme belief that your own country is always best”, and comes from a disguised oath. It first appears in a popular British song about the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-78 (the war was mostly about ousting the Ottoman Empire from the Balkans).

“We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too
We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.”

The song’s anti-Russian sentiment carries on from the Crimean War of the 1850s, in which Britain and France fought against Russian Expansionism into the decaying Ottoman Empire.

The jingoist theme of the song reappears in a Punch cartoon by EH Shepherd in 1938, where it is contrasted with the pacifism of Neville Chamberlain, with his  appeasement of Hitler and resistance to adequate rearmament. The old fashioned British national John Bull character, is in a record shop, asking the assistance Neville Chamberlain for this song. While Lord Salisbury’s (Neville Chamberlain’s father) portrait looks down from the wall. Lord Salisbury pursued an aggressive policy of security alliances  in Europe that led to the First world War. His son is pursuing the opposite policy under different conditions with ironically the same results.

ehshepherd - Copy.jpg

The text reads:  THE OLD-FASHIONED CUSTOMER “I wonder if you’ve got a song I remember about not wanting to fight, but if we do …. something, something, something …. we’ve got the money too?”

[End Extra Notes]

James Bloodworth: A left-wing case against Comrade Jeremy Corbyn (2015)

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James Bloodworth: A left-wing case against Comrade Jeremy Corbyn (2015)

[Posted by Lara Keller 14/10/17]

[ source = http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/james-bloodworth-left-wing-case-against-comrade-jeremy-corbyn-1513969 ]

By James Bloodworth, 4/8/2015

Until mid-2011 I was a member of a small London-based Trotskyist group. Early in that same year, as part of my propaganda efforts on behalf of the group I ended up at a meeting of the Labour Representation Committee, a left-wing faction of the Labour party, where I listened to Jeremy Corbyn deliver a rousing speech on the then raging war in Libya.

From memory, the speech was not so much anti-war, which would have been perfectly reasonable considering talk at the time of Nato intervention, as pro that country’s dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. I do not remember the exact contents of the speech – it took place when Corbyn was an obscure backbencher – only that audible groans filled enlightened corners of the hall, including my own, when the left-winger began to reel off what he considered the “achievements” of the Gaddafi regime.

“A person cannot conceivably be anti-establishment when they are so willing to line up behind some of the most atrocious ‘establishments’ in the world”
– James Bloodworth

You might call my experience of that day the beginning of my education in the left-wing case against Jeremy Corbyn, who since then has risen from obscure backbencher to likely next leader of the Labour party.

The right-wing case against Corbyn is a straightforward one. Indeed, the conservative press in Britain has constructed an entire vocabulary with which to smear as a lunatic anyone, like Corbyn, who does not accept that the best Britain can hope for is a society where tens of thousands of people a year rely on food banks to survive.

The right’s problem with Corbyn is not that he is “unelectable” – in fact the thing conservatives fear most is an electable left-wing politician – rather it is that he talks in tones that make them want to hold their bulging purses a little tighter.

No, Corbyn is striking a chord with Labour activists because in many respects he is correct: a Britain built on finance capitalism and property speculation will never work in the interests of the majority. That isn’t Bolshevism; it’s the ABC of social democracy. The problem with Labour’s so-called modernisers, or Blairites, or whatever you want to call them, is that they appear to have forgotten much of this.

From the television studios at Milbank to the plush conference halls at party conference, at some point over the past 30 years the oppressed began to look a little less oppressed to the policy pedants of the Labour establishment.

The best case against Corbyn is not that he is a wild-eyed socialist, but instead goes back to my initial reminiscence: he is remarkably good at proffering apologetics for dictatorship and tyranny. As well as Gaddafi, Corbyn has in recent years championed/made excuses for Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, Russian gay-basher Vladimir Putin, the butcher of Bosnian Muslims Slobodan Milosevic and the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

He has also worked for Iranian state broadcaster Press TV (home of Holocaust deniers and other cranks) and has referred to fascistic terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”.

It is this, rather than any desire to make the British economy more like that of Germany – the horror! – which ought to prevent Labour members from voting for Corbyn in the upcoming Labour leadership election. A person cannot conceivably be anti-establishment when they are so willing to line up behind some of the most atrocious “establishments” in the world.

This matters perhaps more today than it did in the past. Large swathes of the world are currently convulsed by war and/or under the boot of dictatorship. The world urgently requires a vocal and internationally minded left – a left which, while recognising imperialist follies such as the war in Iraq, never grovels to religious fascists and whose instinctive reaction to tyranny is one of revulsion rather than reverential talk about the “achievements” of this or that thuggish dictatorship – however “left” the posture of the regime in question

“Comrade Corbyn, a nice man who loathes tyranny and anti-Semitism, ends up on platforms lavishing praise on tyrants and anti-Semites”
– James Bloodworth

Unfortunately, Corbyn’s indulgence of tyranny is invariably where politics takes you if you accept the increasingly fashionable view that the US is the world’s most malevolent power. In building up the US as public enemy number one, the left must invent disagreements with it – and by extension Britain – to prop up an increasingly tortuous ideological house of cards.

Thus because the US is the beating heart of capitalism, it must always and everywhere be the “root cause” (you will hear that phrase a lot) of the world’s problems; and by deduction, any movement that points a gun in its direction must invariably have something going for it.

To agree with David Cameron about, say, the threat from Islamic State (Isis) is to admit there are nastier forces in the world than George Osborne and the Daily Mail. And if this turns out to be true, the main enemy might not be capitalism after all – and thus the illusions begin to melt away.

It may be accurate that, as his supporters like to point out, Corbyn “actually believes in something”. And yes, ideology can at times inspire tremendous good. But it can also make a person believe that a goldfish is a racehorse.

This is how Comrade Corbyn, a nice man who loathes tyranny and anti-Semitism, ends up on platforms lavishing praise on tyrants and anti-Semites. And it is how some of the very best now find themselves willing on a man who consistently gives succour to some of the very worst.

The truth is that, however much a Corbyn-led Labour party might claim to be standing up for the most vulnerable, it will always and everywhere be willing to sacrifice the very people it ought to stick up for – the world’s democrats, secularists, Jews, gays and women – on the ideological alter of anti-Americanism. This, as I will never tire of pointing out, ought to make Corbyn persona non grata for any principled person of the left.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward. You can follow James @J_Bloodworth and his blog @LeftFootFwd.

[End Article]

Jeremy Corbyn’s silence over Aleppo shows how he has become a lobbyist for Iran (2016)

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Jeremy Corbyn’s silence over Aleppo shows how he has become a lobbyist for Iran (2016)

[ source = http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/jeremy-corbyns-silence-over-aleppo-shows-how-he-has-become-lobbyist-iran-1597582 ]

By Sam Hamad,  12/12/2016

As Aleppo was consumed by fascist counterrevolution, while the people of the formerly liberated eastern areas of the city were being cleansed or dying waiting to be cleansed, Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the [UK] Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition, was attending a Christmas fundraising dinner for the Stop the War Coalition (SWC). You might think his attendance of such an event is generally innocuous and unconnected to far off happenings in Syria. You’d be wrong.

One might wonder why Jeremy Corbyn has been so quiet on Syria on the face of the fall of Aleppo, or why, when challenged by Peter Tatchell, he had to leave to find out what the correct public line of his leadership was on Syria? Or why, during the emergency debate on Aleppo in the UK parliament, the alleged internationalist Corbyn stayed only to hear the meandering, incoherent speech of his shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, before leaving without saying a word? If you are wondering these things then you ought to look no further than not simply his connection with the SWC, but his ideological congruence with it.

The SWC has been among the loudest voices over the last five years that have sought to push narratives supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, as well as his partners Iran and Russia, as they unleashed a genocidal war against Syrians who rose up against them in the name of freedom and self-determination. It has hosted a number of pro-regime and, not-so-ironically if you understand the function of the SWC, pro-war voices such as its vice chairman and Corbyn’s long-standing comrade George Galloway, who took to Twitter to praise the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ at a time when it was going door-to-door murdering men, women and children in Aleppo. Though the SWC always disputes its support for Assad, Iran and Russia, a look at its output on the conflict over the years ought to leave one with very little doubt regarding their allegiances.

However, the fact that the leader of the UK’s largest political party and the leader of the official opposition saw fit to attend this fundraiser is no surprise. Since becoming leader of the opposition, Corbyn has had to be more cautious about stating his views openly, but by just briefly looking into his recent history on these questions, his true views on the situation in Syria are obvious. It was he who was national chair of the SWC as they organised pro-Assad demos following Assad’s gassing to death of over one thousands Syrian civilians at Ghouta, or when they invited Mother Agnes Mariam, who is not just a supporter of but a fully-fledged propagandist for Assad’s genocidal war effort, to a ‘peace’ conference.

Moreover, if one takes a look through Corbyn’s interventions in the British parliament, one can see that in every debate on whether the UK government should materially support Syrians resisting Assad, Iran and Russia, one can see the same essential message of hostility towards the Syrian revolution. This is not a subtle thing – though Corbyn might pay lip service to condemning in vague terms the “violence” in Syria, as a backbench MP, his interventions in parliament concerning Syria sought to repeat the regime’s narrative that the rebels were Islamic extremists, akin to the Taliban.

In addition to this, Corbyn has essentially lobbied for Iran to be rewarded for its intervention in Syria, underwriting and participating in genocide, with a seat at the top table in terms of negotiating over Syria’s future. This is not a point that should be glossed over. While progressives from all backgrounds understand that the dynamic in Syria, beyond all the complexities, is one between armed forces that arose as part of a popular revolution and a brutal tyrant and his foreign imperialist allies attempting to crush the revolution, those who are sympathetic to the regime have attempted to portray the revolution as a ‘western’ conspiracy against Iran.

“Corbyn could easily be described as a lobbyist for the Iranian regime.”

Corbyn is, of course, not crude enough to state this openly, but in combination with his will to slander the rebels as being akin to the Taliban and tie them to Islamic terrorism, he has been keen to push this idea as a justification for Iranian intervention on behalf of Assad. This is precisely what he did in a debate in parliament in May 2013, when he claimed that despite the presence of its troops in Syria, Iran was only ‘presumably helping Assad’ as it felt “under threat” from the Syrian revolution due to the “vast amount of arms” being supplied to the rebels, adding that Iran might be “next on the western countries” hit list’.

While it’s never overtly stated, the inferences here is that Assad and Iran are the victims. The idea, much-loved by Assad, Iran and Russia’s propagandists, that there exists an actual ‘hit list’ of countries that the West wants to overthrow for all kinds of nefarious reasons. As with all conspiracy theories, the essential point of this is not to elucidate any facts but rather to obfuscate them – in this case it’s the crimes of fascistic and anti-human tyrannies that are conceived to be ‘anti-western’ in their geopolitical demeanour and are thus to be supported, regardless of whether there is an actually existing revolution against them or whether they are imposing their hegemony over Syrians seeking self-determination.

Corbyn could easily be described as a lobbyist for the Iranian regime. In the same sleazy manner as the Tory politicians, so hated by Corbyn and his supporters, who claim to support ‘human rights’ in Saudi Arabia before selling them weapons and the means to maintain their domestic tyranny, Corbyn has strongly advocated that such relations be transferred from Saudi’s brutal theocracy to that of the Iranian regime’s.

In article for, of all places, the Morning Star, entitled ‘Rebuilding Relations With Iran’, written in 2014, after the Iranian regime’s brutal crushing of the nascent democratic Green uprising and during its key participation in the genocidal war effort of Assad in Syria, Corbyn makes a sordid case for normalising relations with the regime, employing the usual juvenile whataboutery and dubious historical validations that comprise justifications and apologia Iranian regime. Corbyn vaguely mentions something about the Iranian regime’s treatment of ‘trade union movements’, but doesn’t mention the crushing of the Green Movement or its support for who he calls in the article ‘President Assad of Syria’, who, with Iran’s direction and help had at that point managed to murder around 400,000 people.

But why would Corbyn mention any of Iran’s crimes in Syria in the article – or at all? This a person who has received money from the Iranian regime via its anti-Semitic, sectarian propaganda outlet Press TV, as well as being a guest of the regime on various occasions, including posing for photos with regime officials.

It’s for this reason that, during the emergency debate on Aleppo, Corbyn the internationalist couldn’t find his voice; instead, the dreaded Labour ‘centrists’ and Liberal Democrats put the progressive view on Syria forward. However, the key point of the entire debate was made by George Osborne, who recognised the genocidal dimensions of what was occurring in Syria and the West’s responsibility in failing to support the rebels, but also its capacity in aiding the rise of fascism in Europe.

Corbyn’s stance on Syria makes it impossible for him to understand this dynamic, the dynamic of Syria as an open sore from which the poison of fascism and post-fact populism is spreading and infecting the whole world, the necessity is now for a progressive opposition to emerge. One that not only understands this dynamic but is equipped to meet it head on, as opposed to appease or acquiesce to it. Labourites must understand Syria and Aleppo as existential moments for them and for the very foundations of progressive politics, just as their late colleague Jo Cox did.

The Labour Party is actually a microcosm for the current dynamics that have been exacerbated by the Syrian crisis. The party is currently caught between the legacy of the malfeasance of Blairism, the crimes of which have been a devil on the back of the Syrian revolution, as well as the consequences of such malfeasance – the symbolically ‘left-wing’ symptom of the general disease that is rapidly devouring the centre in western politics.

And make no mistake: this is what Corbyn and his movement represents, socialism at home and support for fascist counterrevolution abroad. The kind of movement that managed to outdo the Daily Mail’s infamous ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ by praising the triumph of fascism in Aleppo as a ‘liberation’, much in the same way it praises the triumph of Donald Trump and the ‘alt-right’ in the US as a revolt against ‘neoliberalism’.

The genocide in Syria determined by Russia and Iran is the kind of world order envisioned by Corbyn and his ilk.

Sam Hamad is a Scottish-Egyptian writer based in Edinburgh. He specialises in Middle Eastern affairs.

[End Article]

Russia Muscles in on De-escalation Zones

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Russia Muscles in on De-escalation Zones

[original = https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/russia-muscles-in-on-de-escalation-zones by Asaad Hanna, October 2017]

Through imposing conditions on armed opposition groups, Russia is working to strengthen and transform its presence in Syria, moving from a military posture to that of a mediator driving towards a solution.

While this process of consolidation began with the Astana meetings between the military opposition and the Syrian regime, bilateral agreements are being reached separately in different parts of Syria, indicative of the Russians’ readiness to reverse any agreement that is signed in favour of an alternative that achieves their greater interests. But at the same time, the dynamics on the ground challenge the viability of any negotiated agreements.

The road from Astana

Almost a year after the start of the Astana talks, a ceasefire agreement was reached in four areas of Syria, backed by Russian, Turkish, and later Iranian guarantees. These areas, known as ‘de-escalation zones’, included the city of Idlib and the surrounding countryside, the northern Homs countryside, Eastern Ghouta, and parts of Deraa.

But since then, Russia has taken new steps to establish bilateral agreements directly with armed opposition groups on the ground in the same areas where the Astana agreements were announced. These agreements exclude any of the groups’ foreign-based leadership and are guaranteed by Russia alone.

These developments indicate that there is a Russian policy to become a unitary player on the Syrian issue, by excluding existing international actors such as Turkey and Iran. Events in southern Syria are an example of this, as Russia signed an agreement with the Southern Front to keep Iranian-backed militias away from Deraa. The Russians also made sure that the Iranians were not allowed to take control of eastern Aleppo or Hayy’ al-Waer in Homs and worked to replace them with Chechen police.

Through its statements and actions, Russia seems intent on suggesting that if it is not satisfied with the terms of the agreement established under the Astana framework, it will resort to outside agreements, thus ensuring Russia’s desired result is implemented in all cases. Take Eastern Ghouta’s inclusion in the Astana de-escalation agreement for example. Russian attacks continued on the areas until Jaish al-Islam signed an agreement directly with the Russians. Then attacks continued on areas where Failaq al-Rahman was present when the faction objected to several details of the agreement, including its listing of Cairo as the signing place, and refused to sign. But then it signed an agreement with Russia on 18 August in Geneva, after which Eastern Ghouta quietly entered into a truce, although the siege of Ghouta persists.

The same thing happened in the northern Homs countryside. After the de-escalation agreement was announced in Astana, it was revoked and a new agreement was established through a meeting between the Russians and Jaish al-Tawhid directly in Cairo. Similarly, in Idlib, which was also covered by the Astana agreements, the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, stated that they are seeking to bring the city into bilateral agreements for a ceasefire.

These agreements were established based on a unilateral guarantee – a Russian guarantee – without an international guarantor for the opposition, and without grounding them in international legal mechanisms such as the UN Security Council. Thus, the fate of these agreements will be determined by a Russian desire to implement them. Should Russia wish to annul them, it is unrestrained. Just as the de-escalation agreements have been ignored and replaced with local agreements, these bilateral agreements can also be revoked in favour of other agreements.

Although the Astana agreements initially garnered international support and were considered a step on the path to calm and an end to fighting in Syria, many violations were recorded in the early hours of implementation. Russia has ended up being the guarantor of ceasefire agreements while at the same time being the one violating them and bombing areas included in these agreements. These agreements should consequently be understood as temporary understandings that bring calm to the Syrian regime side allied with Russia in exchange for non-military gains for the opposition such as the release of detainees or a stop to shelling to allow aid to enter besieged areas.

Further problems

De-escalation zones are also confronted with competition and conflict between the military factions who are still looking for a foothold in any would-be international agreement, to ensure they are safe under the agreement and to guarantee their legitimacy through international dealings. Likewise, they will try to obstruct any agreement that takes place without their participation.

This is what happened after Jaish al-Tawhid (which does not have any leadership abroad) signed an agreement with the Russians in Cairo concerning de-escalation zones in the northern Homs countryside. Ahrar al-Sham and other factions denounced the agreement and tried to move it to Turkey so that they might play a role in it in lieu of Jaish al-Tawhid. According to one of the supervisors of the agreement with the Russians, Ahrar al-Sham allocated $200,000 to dismantle the Cairo agreement and move it to Turkey. While they did not succeed in doing so, they did manage to move the talks from Cairo to a popular committee inside Syria in order to meet with the Russians and renegotiate the terms of the Cairo agreement under different conditions.

There are also fears of Iranian meddling to dismantle agreements in order to preserve their positions and plans for an increased Iranian presence in Syria, guaranteeing access from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria and strengthening the arm of Iranian militias in the region. The Iranians will not accept Russia taking their place in Syria so easily. Should the Russians seriously begin efforts to stabilize the parties to the conflict in Syria, Iranian militias are expected to attack opposition areas, prompting the opposition to respond and destroying the ceasefire.

When the Russians blocked Shia militias from entering Hayy’ al-Waer, the militias began to threaten and intimidate the civilians and fighters leaving al-Waer. Later they planted mines on the road used by the sixth batch of civilians leaving al-Waer, delaying their arrival to Zogra camp in Jarablus and forcing Russian forces to dismantle the mines and secure the road. Similarly, when Russia consolidated a strip of Shia villages in northern Homs to prevent any attacks from being launched on the region, the action provoked Iranian militias, who fired rockets and mortars into nearby opposition controlled areas. This was because the inability to launch attacks to control opposition territory reduces the Iranian role within regime controlled areas.

Extremist organizations also play a negative role in the de-escalation zones because they are always referred to as parties that must be fought, or at least to be dissolved or transferred to other areas to remove their presence within de-escalation zones. One of the terms of the de-escalation agreement in Eastern Ghouta was for Failaq al-Rahman to distance itself from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), with which it had a strong relationship. In the northern Homs countryside, the agreement required the removal of HTS without specifying a destination for relocation.

Therefore, the factions endorsing de-escalation agreements are stuck between two alternatives – either violate the agreement and don’t confront HTS, or adhere to it and expel them (because experience has proven that HTS will not withdraw from any region voluntarily). It is therefore seriously expected that HTS will open battles with the Russians and the regime to stop implementation of the agreement or use the agreement as an excuse to confront signatory opposition factions and streamline its control over larger areas.

Shaping the future

With this new wave of local agreements, the Russians are attempting to transform their role from that of an aggressor, threatening the opposition’s existence, to the main party capable of ensuring calm. Such a change would contribute to Turkish marginalization, overshadowing Turkey’s role as a guarantor of the opposition in the Astana agreements, and side-line Iran. If they succeed – and with the Americans moving away and changing their priorities in the region – the Russians would be alone to shape the solution in Syria.